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Marcus Young to be Minnesota Department of Transportation’s first Community Vitality Fellow

CONTACT: Ben Stone, bstone@smartgrowthamerica.org / 410.370.3843 and Jessica Oh, jessica.oh@state.mn.us /651-366-4939.

Transportation for America and the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) are excited to announce MnDOT’s inaugural Community Vitality Fellow, Marcus Young. Young will be embedded within the agency for a year in its Saint Paul headquarters where he will serve as an artist-in-residence, taking a fresh look at the agency’s goals to promote economic vitality, improve safety, support multimodal transportation systems, and create healthier communities.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation joins Smart Growth America’s artist-in-residence program as the second statewide agency to host an artist-in-residence, following the launch of Washington State DOT’s artist-in-residence program last week. 

About the program

Mr. Young will gain a thorough understanding of the inner workings of a state department of transportation, while supporting MnDOT’s efforts to encourage local public-private partnerships that support the aesthetic, environmental, social and cultural values of communities within transportation projects. The project(s) executed during the residency will be developed in close partnership with T4America and MnDOT. The MnDOT Fellow will be tasked with exploring the following:

  • Developing processes and procedures to further evaluate and integrate elements that elevate the unique character of each community within the transportation system.
  • Bringing creative problem solving skills and strategic thinking to design challenges, while providing guidance on potential improvements to how MnDOT plans, builds, operates and maintains its infrastructure using community feedback.
  • Piloting innovative public engagement strategies to further build customer trust as set forth in the MnDOT 2018-2022 Strategic Operating Plan by engaging a wide range of stakeholders, including elected officials, tribal governments, community organizations and transportation partners. 

About Marcus Young

Photo of Marcus Young by Laichee Yang courtesy of Ananya Dance Theatre.

It is not artist Marcus Young’s first foray into government. Young served as the City Artist for the City of St. Paul for nine years where he created Everyday Poems for City Sidewalks, a work of art that has embedded more than 1,000 poems created by city residents into city streets. Young has a background in theater, music and dance and calls himself a “behavioral artist” who wants to approach this role with humility and curiosity. He is a recipient of awards from the McKnight, Bush, and Jerome Foundations, and received his MFA from the University of Minnesota. 

“Working alongside MnDOT, I’ll be searching for obvious and hidden possibilities for change, moving along the borders of known and unknown,” explains Young. “Approaching the context of government with a creative spirit, I hope to engage all Minnesotans’ desire to live a good life and their yearning for a more just world.”

The team at MnDOT is thrilled to welcome Young onto their team, and looks forward to engaging his expertise as an artist embedded in government and interest in equity. “Marcus Young brings an openness, curiosity and deep listening to his approach working within government agencies,” says Jessica Oh, Highway Sponsorship Director with MnDOT’s Office of Land Management. “He is interested in how art can create a more equitable world, both representational and lived, and his artistic practice considers those that are not at the table. We think this is a great fit for the agency.”

“The quality and quantity of artists who applied for the Community Vitality Fellowship blew away our selection committee, and we’re thrilled to have selected Marcus Young to serve as MnDOT’s first ever artist-in-residence,” said Ben Stone, Smart Growth America’s director of arts & culture. “Marcus’ deep history working within government as a City Artist with the City of St Paul, his intellectual curiosity, and his interest in behavioral art and relationship-building make Marcus an ideal fit for the position. I can’t wait to get started working with Marcus and to see all of the creative ideas he develops over the coming year.”

About artists embedded in government

Recognized as a tool for pioneering innovative and creative solutions, artist-in-residence programs have been piloted across the nation in municipal governmental agencies, including the cities of Los Angeles and Seattle, but until 2019, never before at a statewide agency. In Fergus Falls, MN, artists-in-residence have increased cultural programming to support community development. In Lanesboro, MN, the artists-in-residence have used art as a catalyst for deeper community engagement. In Minneapolis, artists-in-residence have used theatre to help the city’s Regulatory Services Department develop more empathetic policies and better relate to their constituents, while St Paul’s artists-in-residence have worked to make community meetings more creative, fun, and productive.

Support for the Fellowship

Smart Growth America, ArtPlace America, the McKnight Foundation, and MnDOT collaborated on creating the Community Vitality Fellowship position. Transportation for America (T4America) will administer both the funds and the overall program, including providing staff and consulting assistance. The State Smart Transportation Initiative (SSTI) will also provide staff support. Both T4America and SSTI are programs of Smart Growth America. MnDOT will supply in-kind contributions consisting of work space for the selected Fellow and staff time for agency workers to collaborate on the groundbreaking new program.

Transportation for America (T4America) is a national nonprofit that supports a transportation system that safely, affordably and conveniently connects people of all means and all abilities to jobs, services and opportunity through multiple modes of travel with minimal impact to communities and the environment. We accomplish this through research, advocacy, technical assistance and thought leadership. T4America is a program of Smart Growth America.

Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) oversees transportation by all modes, including land, water, air, rail, transit, walking and bicycling. The agency is responsible for maintaining, building and operating the state highway system to ensure a safe, accessible, efficient and reliable transportation system that connects people to destinations and markets throughout the state, regionally and around the world.